By now it’s become a familiar trope: Photoshop or GIF something historical, say, Old Masters or old photographs. But just because it’s been done doesn’t mean it’s finished. And the elaborate GIFs that James Kerr makes from early Northern Renaissance paintings are a hilariously new take on the idea of remixing antique art.
Working under the name of Scorpion Dagger, Kerr has been posting GIFs on his blog almost daily for more than two years. The digital collages commingle a kind of timeless absurdity and toilet humor, à la Terry Gilliam’s animations for Monty Python (as the Verge also noticed), with an arch take on contemporary life, particularly hipsterism. So, a skinny, bearded Renaissance-era man ends up dressed in jean shorts, drinking a beer, and standing barefoot by a grill at a campsite (those Photoshopped hipsters at the Louvre come to mind). He proceeds to knock over the grill and start a forest fire. From 15th-century man to 21st-century problems.
It’s not only the concept of the GIFs that makes them so great, it’s also their execution. Rather than simply adding or removing things from a single painting for each, Kerr takes elements from many different paintings and brings them all together in a multipart scene. As he explained to Hyperallergic over email:
There’s actually quite a few different paintings referenced in each GIF. Some people think that it’s one painting that I animate, but in reality there could be as many as 20 to 30 paintings collaged together to make one GIF. I used to straight up reference the paintings a lot more, but now I’m way more interested in creating an entirely new world for these people — with obvious critical pokes at ours. I’m fairly sure it’s fairly apparent, but there’s definitely some politics I’m trying to work out and express in there (but not always).
That new world works by drawing on both the past and present, and by being partly something we recognize and relate to and partly something far more imaginative and surreal.